The web-site is now in readonly mode. Login and registration are disabled. (28 June 2019)

Fieldwork with people

Mary Upton Tuesday 23 March, 2.45pm-3.45pm, Workshop 3D, CMR15

Cloud created by:

13 March 2010

Mary Upton

Tuesday 23 March, 2.45pm-3.45pm
Workshop 3D

Central Meeting Room 15

This session will examine some of the issues and challenges in doing fieldwork with people (in any setting). In particular it will look at:

  • The place of fieldwork in research
  • Setting up and doing fieldwork
  • Collecting, recording and analysing data

Mary Upton’s first degree was in Sociology with Research Training at the University of Bath and her MPhil is in Politics from the University of Bristol.  She began her academic career teaching Sociology and Health and Social Care, moving on to teach Social Science at the Open University as an Associate Lecturer.  Before resuming her studies, she gained a Masters in Research Training in International Development at the University of Bath. 

Her research interests are in global health governance, social justice, citizenship and participatory development.  Before beginning her PhD at the Open University she contributed a case study to the Masters course TU870, ‘Capacities for Managing Development’, entitled ‘The Summertown HIV prevention Project’.  Currently, she is writing up her thesis focusing on community engagement in local health initiatives.  Her field work was undertaken in South Africa in two HIV vaccine clinical trial sites in Cape Town and Soweto.   

Extra content

Mary Upton (Session 3D)

Fieldwork with people (Tuesday, 23rd March, 2010; 2:45 pm)

Fairly large room with about 18 people. Mary has just asked for a volunteer to write on the flip-chart.

Mary is talking about her fieldwork in South Africa and she is saying that when she started she was very nervous and then she loved it.

The students are going around saying what their research is about and what their concerns are about.

Students’ concerns:

  1. No knowledge of interviews and case studies but these are the techniques going to use
  2. Self-funded and hence money is limited for the interviews
  3. Positioning herself (the researcher) in a group/project that she created. She is comparing the group she created with other groups.
  4. Uncertain whether focus groups would work in the country that he is going to do his research in. His alternative is to run a workshop instead
  5. Concerns about access in a Muslim society/ country – probably as she is a female? Also there may be censorship if what she is investigating is not positive towards the country
  6. Concerns whether going into ethical communities as an outsider would cause any problems (?)
  7. Issues of access and whether it would be difficult to get access as his area is controversial
  8. How to adapt methods from social sciences into computing and how to blend technical artefacts with people
  9. Wants to ensure she is not intrusive in the lives of her participants
  10. Getting ethical approval – clarity to the participants what is happening. Needing the time
  11. Getting people to interact or engage with the ‘product’ (e.g. art performance) they have (Mary suggests showing enthusiasm)

Indicates that John Oates is a useful person to contact for the ethical approval.


Have contingency plans just in case your methods don’t work. You have to decide if your decisions are feasible.

Key issues:

  • Consent
  • Confidentiality
  • Anonymity
  • Protection of respondents and researchers from harm e.g. personal safety in dangerous countries

You have to show respect as you have to remember that you’re being hosted by busy people. You should dress appropriately.

Particularly in a developing country, be careful of what you promise and what you’re planning on giving back.

You need to think about the boundaries of your research i.e. where are you going to stop

You need to fit the sample size appropriate to the method.

Clarify the key characteristics of age, gender and ethnicity.

Contact and Access Issues

You would need to build relationships – either by letters of introductions, emails and phone calls. You should make it short and direct. You can send a longer bit on the proposal goals to them as an attachment.

In some countries, there may not be good internet or the timings might be completely off. You may need to use texts and phone calls instead.

You have to decide whether you’re going to continue building up the contact even after you leave.

People sometime value having someone listen to their issues.

The procedures

It is recommended that you do a pilot study so you can come up with all the mistakes that can happen.

Practical issues

Budgets e.g. phone calls might cost a lot. Overestimate rather than underestimate.

Visas etc.

One student is saying when the interview is over then the people actually started talking to you. The interview is not only when the recorder is on – it includes your reflection afterwards.

A student said based on her interviews if someone is feeling uncomfortable about answering some questions, don’t push it – because they won’t answer it.

Unexpected Events

Holidays and absence – you probably can’t interview the people you want to when you want to

Things always don’t go the way you organised or you may not get the people you wanted to interview. You may find new people to interview which might change the direction of your research.

Be organise, do it right but also be flexible.

Anesa Hosein
15:04 on 23 March 2010

Embedded Content

Mary Upton's Presentation

Mary Upton's Presentation

added by Anesa Hosein

Mary Upton's Fieldwork Tips

Mary Upton's Fieldwork Tips

added by Anesa Hosein


Contribute to the discussion

Please log in to post a comment. Register here if you haven't signed up yet.